Cell biology

Cell biology (formerly called cytology, from the Greek κυτος, kytos, "vessel") is a branch of biology that studies the different structures and functions of the cell and focuses mainly on the idea of the cell as the basic unit of life. Cell biology explains the structure, organization of the organelles they contain, their physiological properties, metabolic processes, signaling pathways , life cycle, and interactions with their environment. This is done both on a microscopic and molecular level as it encompasses prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells. Knowing the components of cells and how cells work is fundamental to all biological sciences; it is also essential for research in bio-medical fields such as cancer, and other diseases. Research in cell biology is closely related to genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, and developmental biology

Internal cellular structures

The generalized structure and molecular components of a cell

Chemical and molecular environment

The study of the cell is done on a molecular level; however, most of the processes within the cell are made up of a mixture of small organic molecules, inorganic ions, hormones, and water. Approximately 75-85% of the cell’s volume is due to water making it an indispensable solvent as a result of its polarity and structure.[1] These molecules within the cell, which operate as substrates, provide a suitable environment for the cell to carry out metabolic reactions and signalling. The cell shape varies among the different types of organisms, and are thus then classified into two categories: eukaryotes and prokaryotes. In the case of eukaryotic cells - which are made up of animal, plant, fungi, and protozoa cells - the shapes are generally round and spherical,[2] while for prokaryotic cells – which are composed of bacteria and archaea - the shapes are: spherical (cocci), rods (bacillus), curved (vibrio), and spirals (spirochetes).[3]

Cell biology focuses more on the study of eukaryotic cells, and their signalling pathways, rather than on prokaryotes which is covered under microbiology. The main constituents of the general molecular composition of the cell includes: proteins and lipids which are either free flowing or membrane bound, along with different internal compartments known as organelles. This environment of the cell is made up of hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions which allows for the exchange of the above-mentioned molecules and ions. The hydrophilic regions of the cell are mainly on the inside and outside of the cell, while the hydrophobic regions are within the phospholipid bilayer of the cell membrane. The cell membrane consists of lipids and proteins which accounts for its hydrophobicity as a result of being non-polar substances.[1] Therefore, in order for these molecules to participate in reactions, within the cell, they need to be able to cross this membrane layer to get into the cell. They accomplish this process of gaining access to the cell via: osmotic pressure, diffusion, concentration gradients, and membrane channels. Inside of the cell are extensive internal sub-cellular membrane-bounded compartments called organelles.


cell surface membrane protects the cell


An image of the cell cycle of mitosis

Growth and development

The growth process of the cell does not refer to the size of the cell, but instead the density of the number of cells present in the organism at a given time. Cell growth pertains to the increase in the number of cells present in an organism as it grows and develops; as the organism gets larger so too does the number of cells present. Cells are the foundation of all organisms, they are the fundamental unit of life. The growth and development of the cell are essential for the maintenance of the host, and survival of the organisms. For this process the cell goes through the steps of the cell cycle and development which involves cell growth, DNA replication, cell division, regeneration, specialization, and cell death. The cell cycle is divided into four distinct phases, G1, S, G2, and M. The G phases – which is the cell growth phase - makes up approximately 95% of the cycle.[4] The proliferation of cells is instigated by progenitors, the cells then differentiate to become specialized, where specialized cells of the same type aggregate to form tissues, then organs and ultimately systems.[1] The G phases along with the S phase – DNA replication, damage and repair - are considered to be the interphase portion of the cycle. While the M phase (mitosis and cytokinesis) is the cell division portion of the cycle.[4] The cell cycle is regulated by a series of signalling factors and complexes such as CDK's, kinases, and p53. to name a few. When the cell has completed its growth process, and if it is found to be damaged or altered it undergoes cell death, either by apoptosis or necrosis, to eliminate the threat it cause to the organism’s survival.

Other cellular processes

Techniques used to study cells

Electron micrograph of blood cells clotting.
Cell division studied using fluorescence to stain specific structures

Cells may be observed under the microscope, using several different techniques; these include optical microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, fluorescence microscopy, and confocal microscopy.

There are several different methods used in the study of cells:

Purification of cells and their parts Purification may be performed using the following methods:

Practical job applications for a degree in Cell Molecular Biology includes the following.[7]

  • Agriculture
  • Bioinformatics & Medical Informatics
  • Biomedical Research
  • Biotechnology
  • Biotechnology Policy
  • Brewery Production
  • Business
  • Clinical Diagnostics
  • Colleges and University Teaching
  • Crop improvement
  • Elementary, Middle and High School Teaching
  • Environmental Technician/Consultant
  • Food Production and Safety
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Geneticist

Notable cell biologists

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cell biology.


  1. 1 2 3 Lodish, Harvey (2013). Molecular Cell Biology. W. H. Freeman and Company. ISBN 978-1-4292-3413-9.
  2. "The Morphology of Eukaryotic Cells: Shape, Number and Size". YourArticleLibrary.com: The Next Generation Library. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  3. "The Size, Shape, And Arrangement Of Bacterial Cells". classes.midlandstech.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  4. 1 2 Hardin, Jeff. Becker's World of the Cell. ISBN 978-0-321-71602-6.
  5. Cristianini, N. and Hahn, M. Introduction to Computational Genomics, Cambridge University Press, 2006. (ISBN 9780521671910 | ISBN 0-521-67191-4)
  6. "Immunoprecipitation (IP)". Thermofisher.com. Retrieved 2015-10-16.
  7. "Wikipedia editing basics: Citing sources (part 1)". YouTube. 2012-12-19. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
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